February 15, 2013

Mary Jane Clevenger

Mary Jane Clevenger (1831-1904) lived and quilted in Frederick County, Virginia, for many decades.

Mary Jane Clevenger Robinson.  Photograph courtesy
of Barbara Harner Suhay.
One stunning 96 X 96 inch quilt, estimated c. 1850, was passed down in a Quaker family of her descendants.  Its center block has a stamped medallion containing a name that appears as "Mary Jane Clevinger" (more often spelled "Clevenger").  The reverse applique cutout hearts you see here also appear on several other Quaker quilts from the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.  Other blocks exhibit patterns typical of a popular paper-cutting technique whereby paper is folded and cut into intricate patterns, then unfolded to create a symmetrical design.
Mary Jane Clevenger Quilt, details.  Private collection.  Photographs by Mary
Holton Robare.
As you look at the quilt in its entirely, notice the scalloped border, unusual appliqued sashing that is interrupted along the vertical lines, and the fabulous variety of block patterns.
Mary Jane Clevenger Quilt.  Photograph by Carroll DeWeese.
Mary Jane married Josiah Robinson shortly after the estimated 1850 date of this quilt, and one year after her father, Asa Clevenger, died in California during the Gold Rush.
Mary Jane was especially close to her father who went to California in 1849 with the Charles Town Mining Company.  In fact, according to family letters, Mary Jane wanted to accompanyhim to California but he wrote her, "not for all the gold in California would I have you here [ . . .]."  In a letter to his wife he instructed her to "Tell Mary Jane it is not uncommon for a young woman --for I cannot call them young ladies -- and a man to see each other at a ball in the evening and get married the next day.  The society is very bad here, so much so, that it is not a fit place for any decent female to be."
So Mary Jane stayed in Virginia and became the wife of Josiah, who was a successful farmer and miller at Cedar Grove in Frederick County.
Cedar Grove home of Josiah and Mary Jane Robinson.  Photograph courtesy of
Barbara Harner Suhay.

The couple had six children, three of whom survived.  Members of their families were prominent orchardists and organizers of Winchester, Virginia's Apple Blossom Festival (an annual event since 1924), and Mary Jane and Josiah's great-grandson became a Congressman.
Mary was an active member of her Meeting.  Interestingly, there are several other surviving quilts on which she most likely worked, and we know that quilting was a regular part of the life in her community.  In a letter to her daughter (probably written in the early 1880s) she wrote:  "I have piece[d a quilt] out of your old light dress and Willia's dark [illegible], got red yarn and knapped it [. . .] Ella Marple said I was to tell you she pieced six borders in your comfort and help[ed] half a day to quilt on it."
Thanks to her family's dedication to preserving and honoring their history, we know a little bit more about the life of this Quaker quilter.
Descendant Barbara Harner Suhay with Mary Jane's quilt.  Photograph
by Mary Holton Robare.
Asa Clevenger, letter, 1850.  Private collection.
Mary Jane Clevenger, letters n.d.  Private collection.
Barbara Harner Suhay, personal correspondence.
(c) Lynda Salter Chenoweth and Mary Holton Robare, 2013.

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